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What’s an ethical will?

On Behalf of | May 1, 2024 | Estate Planning

Last wills and testaments are generally dry, legal documents that speak mostly of how your tangible assets are supposed to be divided after your death – but they don’t usually say much about your life, your values or your wishes for your beneficiaries and heirs.

That’s what an “ethical will” is all about. Also called a “legacy letter,” an ethical will is a powerful way to share your thoughts, pass on bits of wisdom and reflect on your relationships with your loved ones.

Why write an ethical will?

If an ethical will has no legal meaning, why bother writing it? Because it’s a lasting gift that you can leave to beloved family members and friends – or the world at large. It can provide much-needed closure for those you leave behind, explain why you did certain things and serve as a guide for the future. 

As one recipient of a legacy letter wrote, “A couple of times a year, I reread Mom’s letter. How many times do you think I’ve pulled out her legal will and reviewed that? NEVER!”

What do you write about in a legacy letter? Getting started is the hardest part, but here are some suggestions:

  • Consider one letter for your family as a whole, talking about the most important messages you want them to remember, such as your belief in the power of laughter, the value of following their dreams or the importance of family bonds.
  • Consider individual letters to your adult children that tell them your favorite memories of them as children, what you admire most about them as adults and what part of yourself you see in them.
  • Consider writing a letter that can be part of your eulogy, expressing your thoughts about the world, life, death and those you leave behind.

Estate planning can be a very difficult process, and it can leave you feeling a little emotional. An ethical will allows you to put those emotions to good use – and leave behind something that’s ultimately worth more than all the dollars in your estate.